Enjoy Ancient Japan with Modern-day Comfort

Japanese culture has a quiet elegance and understated grace that captures anyone it touches. Though it is easy to appreciate, the culture is much more difficult to experience first hand. These aren’t a people who over-share, and the typical two-week vacation isn’t enough time to get into their inner circle. Unless, of course, you stay at the Kaya Villa’s thatched cottage.

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The cottage is located in the quaint village of Miyama, which provides a needed contrast to the modern cities of Japan. Rice paddies and thick forests cover the mountains that surround this community. And while the amenities are very modern, the cottage’s story is anything but.

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Thatched roof history dates back 5,000 years and is congruent with the history of Japan itself. But now that Japan is enthusiastically welcoming outside influence, and young people flood into cities, the villages and farms that fed Japan are dwindling along with their way of life. This is the old way of life, the way of tea ceremonies, hidden shrines, farming, and yes, thatched roof villages. The core of this way of life is living off the land, in harmony with the land, in a sustainable and clean way. As I listened to the Kaya Villa team discuss the ancient way’s dedication to sustainable living, it started to sound shockingly familiar. You only need to search #CleanLiving to know this old way is a very modern ideal.

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But what is most incredible is that something so rich in history and morality could feel so good. The cottages are warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and their unobtrusive and organic structure means you’re experiencing nature without all the hassle. The cottage walls are built of cedar, which exude a heavenly scent you could swim in. And the cedar bathtub doesn’t hurt either. As you lay in bed, listen to the nighttime chorus literally sing you to sleep, breath in the rich cedar smell, and commend yourself on your #CleanLiving.

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If you can tear yourself away from the cottage, the community of Miyama will welcome you and, even better, share their world with you. A bike ride is the first step, and as every gardener in town bows, smiles, and waves at you, it’s ok to feel like you’re part of the family. Walk up to the village shrine, take a picnic by the river, or even a swim in the perfectly clear water. Your time wouldn’t be complete without a cooking class from Sachiko and Toyoko, two ladies who will make you want to move to Miyama and be adopted by them (if not for their warm hearts, then for their amazing cooking!). Work off the fabulous Japanese cuisine with an easy hike through the Japanese forest, and learn nature’s secrets from a local guide. But leave time for yoga with Junko Saito, the renowned Japanese instructor who is as ruthless as she is gentle. In the evening, watch the sunset over the rice paddies from the cottage’s porch while you grill up a well-deserved dinner of delicious local produce.

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The Kaya Villa offers a connection to the Japanese culture about which many will only read and dream. This connection isn’t just a glimpse, but an immersion, and with a comfort and welcome to make you wonder if you didn’t once live here in a past life. You’ll learn to pace your current life a beat slower, smile to strangers a bit kinder, and the quiet grace which exudes from the Japanese will imprint itself on your heart forever.

Blakely Downs

Blakely left her job as an advertising producer in New York to turn professional traveler with her husband. As they explore, learn, give, and get lost, thrilled, and changed through distant lands, she recounts it all on her travel blog and enables couch travelers everywhere. She now contributes to Glamping.com as a guest writer.

Firefly Bali: Waking up in a Rice Paddy

As a nomad traveling the world in search of unique accommodations, I’ve noticed that the glamping trend has accelerated partly due to the emergence of short-term rental marketplaces like Airbnb and Glamping.com. These websites enable creative, local proprietors to offer their hospitality on a small scale, resulting in a boom of unique lodgings available across the globe. From used shipping containers, to treehouses, to igloos, you can now find it all depending on where you are. Ubud on the island of Bali is no exception. While visiting the trendy town, we discovered Firefly Bali: a single bamboo hut in the middle of a rice paddy.

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Despite its agricultural setting, Firefly is located surprisingly close to the urban core of Ubud. To access the property you first need to convince a taxi driver to drop you off on the side of the road, alongside an unmarked dirt path leading up a hill and into the forest. The process of communicating these unusual instructions to the driver is an experience unto itself. Then you need to hike about a kilometer through a labyrinth of rice paddies. Don’t worry, you don’t need to figure this all out on your own. Despite being a single hut, Firefly is still staffed, sharing employees with a nearby sister property. One of the friendly hosts helped us direct the taxi driver and met us at the trailhead. From there, he helped us with our luggage and led us through the paddies.

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The hut is unlike any property we’ve ever visited. It was constructed in the local architectural material of bamboo with a grass thatched roof. It has a queen-sized bed, a small amount of electricity for lights and an outlet, and an outdoor shower, but the modern conveniences end there. There is no air conditioning or fan. Instead, Firefly relies on its open-air design to keep things cool. It’s so open, there isn’t even a front door!

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This open layout pairs with the hut’s land site, carved out of a working rice paddy, to make the Firefly experience so unique. You naturally settle into the surrounding environment without disturbing it, which in this case entails observing the paddy workers beat the bushes to scare away crop-eating birds or simply enjoying the unobstructed view. The terraced rice paddies were particularly spectacular at sunset.

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As Firefly warns guests in advance, its alternative accommodations will not suit everybody. Despite this, Firefly’s one of a kind outdoor experience set in an authentic Southeast Asian environment seems to be in high demand. The little hut was booked solid for two months following our stay and only by sheer happenstance was a night available during our time in Ubud. Demand is so strong, in fact, that Firefly’s creative proprietor is currently constructing a new bamboo eco-structure about 500 meters away. The new property is slated to hold four bamboo micro-units stacked on top of each other, targeted towards budget travelers seeking a minimalist natural experience in Ubud. Similar to Firefly, but even more alternative. As the Balinese locals would say, “same same but different.”

Daniel Doyon

After a decade of running the rat race in institutional real estate investment, Dan decided to abandon the deferred life plan and pursue his dream of extended world travel while still young. He resigned from his career, sold all his possessions, and began an open-ended journey around the globe, along with his girlfriend Meghan. Dan now contributes to Glamping.com as a guest writer.

4 Rivers Floating Lodge

If you build it, they will come.

These are the famous last words of real estate developers across the world who try, but fail, in their bold attempts to create something out of nothing. Occasionally, however, someone with an exceptional vision, perfectly executed, manages to prove the old adage true.

Enter: 4 Rivers Floating Lodge.

4 Rivers Floating Lodge is a boutique glamping resort located at the confluence of four rivers at the base of the Cardamom Mountains in southwestern Cambodia. Yes, you read that correctly. As the name suggests, 4 Rivers is literally located on top of a river, a construction style inspired by the floating villages native to Cambodia’s countryside.

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Further, the lodge is located in a remote part of an already faraway country, about five hours west of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. But this did not deter us or thousands of other travelers. Like I said, “build it and they will come” occasionally works out.

Our trip started with an adventure: a harrowing, five-hour bus ride during which our driver played chicken with oncoming traffic the entire time. We spent most of the ride with our eyes closed, teeth clenched. All part of the experience, I guess. Once deposited in the village of Tatai, our journey continued with a longtail boat ride down the river.

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4 Rivers Floating Lodge is only accessible by boat, naturally. After twenty minutes of putt-putting down the river, the secluded resort finally appeared in the distance, around a bend, tucked between the eastern bank and a small island.

Even though we knew what to expect, landfall — or shall I say “tentfall” — was still astonishing. There’s something hard to believe about real estate created on top of a moving body of water.

The property, if you want to call it that, consists of a landing area in the center, which includes the restaurant, the office, a library, and some back of house operations. This central landing area is flanked by two long pontoons, with six tents each, for a total of twelve suites.

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Our suite was a massive safari tent with a pitched roof, great room, and ensuite bathroom. We also had a large riverdeck with lounge chairs and swim ladder.

Once settled in, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the river, reading, swimming, and kayaking.

We also enjoyed a bottle of pinot noir while watching an unexpectedly spectacular sunset.

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The next morning, the river’s beauty continued to amaze. The surface was like a polished mirror, covered in fog which had snaked its way down from the highlands. While we rose, the land fog began its retreat from the heat of the rising sun.

After a morning swim and breakfast, we set off on one of 4 Rivers’ many nature excursions. We chose to visit the Tatai Waterfalls. Sambo, a local Khmer guide employed by the lodge, took us up the river.

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Once there, Sambo immediately showed us the hidden climb up the slippery rocks and through rushing water to the top of the falls. He wasted no time demonstrating how to properly jump off. After some nervous jitters, Meghan bravely went first. Once I let her test the depth, it was my turn.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the falls, eating a picnic lunch, and kayaking back down the river. Among Sambo’s many talents, we learned he’s also a candid photographer when we discovered these shots on our camera afterwards. Thanks Sambo.

The waterfalls were stunning and our kayak ride further added to a connection we were starting to feel with the river. To passersby, the river might be overlooked as a mere geographical feature blended into the overall landscape. Once you get up close and personal, however, it becomes clear that the river is the source of life for everything in its path. It is the backbone for a way of life practiced by the locals for hundreds of years.

This was one of the surprises of 4 Rivers Floating Lodge. I honestly thought we’d find the “floating” aspect of the resort to be a gimmick — just a cool way to differentiate from other glampsites and ecolodges. But it’s so much more than that. By floating, you are authentically connected to the river: the cradle of life in this part of Cambodia.

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In talking to Sambo and the rest of the staff, I began to understand that 4 Rivers accomplishes this connection in a sensitive manner, protecting the environment, instead of exploiting it. This is, in my opinion, the most impressive accomplishment of 4 Rivers. Unlike typical destination resorts, which purposefully isolate themselves, 4 Rivers has integrated into the community and generated remarkably positive effects on the locals and the environment.

Sambo was literally a hunter-gatherer before 4 Rivers. Now, thanks to the lodge, he and many other locals speak fluent English and hold an unusually progressive view towards protecting the environment. No longer just a natural resource, they want to preserve the environment for the future. For example, we were impressed as we noticed Sambo quietly collecting litter left behind by other shortsighted locals while we climbed the waterfalls.

For these reasons, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge has redefined what we consider to be the pinnacle of glamping. The basic promise of glamping is to provide an opportunity to enjoy nature without sacrificing modern day amenities. 4 Rivers takes this pledge one step further, providing an opportunity to not just enjoy nature, but to connect with it. And protect it.

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Perhaps the old aphorism should be rephrased in 4 Rivers’ example: if you build something special, they will come.

Daniel Doyon

After a decade of running the rat race in institutional real estate investment, Dan decided to abandon the deferred life plan and pursue his dream of extended world travel while still young. He resigned from his career, sold all his possessions, and began an open-ended journey around the globe, along with his girlfriend Meghan. Dan now contributes to Glamping.com as a guest writer.